By Brad Fauber
STEPHENS CITY -- Sherando head coach Bill Hall didn't know if the Warriors' defense was beginning to wear down against Courtland's wing-T rushing attack midway through the fourth quarter of Friday's Class 4A North regional semifinal game. Sherando senior linebacker Daniel Eppard insists the Warriors were fine.
Either way, with Courtland marching down the field and threatening to take the lead late in the game, the top-seeded Warriors needed a stop.
Sherando's defense delivered. Warriors senior Joe Daley jumped on a Cougars fumble at the Sherando 31-yard line, halting Courtland's drive and swinging the momentum in favor of the Warriors. Sherando's offense did the rest, going 69 yards on just five plays before reaching the end zone for the go-ahead score in a thrilling 27-20 win for the Warriors.
"I'm so proud of my team and how hard we fought. We just faced so much adversity," said Warriors senior running back/linebacker George Aston, who scored the game-winning touchdown on a 1-yard run with 3:15 left in the fourth quarter. "Coach [Bill] Hall just preaches that we've got to overcome adversity every single day, every single week ... and we did exactly that. There were some times in the game where it didn't look too good for us, but we came through harder than ever."
Sherando will host No. 2 Salem next Saturday in the state semifinals, with kickoff scheduled for 1 p.m.
Things definitely seemed uncertain for the Warriors (12-1) on Friday after Courtland erased a 20-13 halftime deficit with a 1-yard touchdown run by junior Anton Jenkins (17 carries, 53 yards, 2 TDs) with 10:47 left to play.
The Cougars (10-3) held Sherando's offense to a three-and-out on the Warriors' next possession, and Courtland seemed primed to put the go-ahead points on the board on its next drive, reaching the Sherando 23 with less than six minutes to play.
However, good penetration by Sherando on a third-down play forced a bad handoff by Courtland on a reverse, and the Warriors were quick to jump on the loose football.
On the next play from scrimmage, Eppard reeled off a 51-yard run as he weaved and dodged defenders all the way to the Courtland 18-yard line.
"I heard the play and I just knew that this was it, if we don't get a score on this drive we're probably going to lose this game," said Eppard, who led Sherando with 93 yards on just four carries. "The line did a good job blocking and I just had to keep running, just try to stay in the open field away from people as much as possible and let my wide receivers block downfield."
That set up Aston's 1-yard plunge four plays later, which was the third rushing touchdown for Aston on the night. Aston (13 carries, 77 yards) also had touchdown runs of 3 and 2 yards in the first half.
Courtland had one final opportunity on offense with three minutes remaining in the game, and the Cougars abandoned the running game altogether in an attempt to quickly move the ball down the field. Sherando sealed the victory when Daley sacked Courtland quarterback Jabari Allen on fourth down at the Cougars' 41.
"I was fine with them abandoning the run," Hall said with a grin. "That's their prerogative. I thought we did a good job with our pass stuff. We didn't drop into a prevent [defense] by any means. We only still had one high safety and we were still preparing to stop their run, and we adjusted off of that. Our guys did a good job today."
Sherando out-gained Courtland 315 to 258 in total offensive yards. The Warriors held Courtland's rushing attack -- which boasted three 1,000-yard rushers -- to just 183 yards on 51 carries.
"We knew they were going to get some points on us here and there, make their plays, but we made more plays in the end. That got us the win," said Aston, who led the Warriors with 12 tackles.
Sherando was the first to get on the board in the first quarter after halting Courtland's game-opening drive on fourth down at the Warriors' 25. Sherando used nine plays to go 75 yards and took a 6-0 lead on Aston's 3-yard run.
The Cougars tied the game at 6-all following a long drive of their own that ended in a 1-yard scoring run by Jenkins. Courtland took a 13-6 lead a few plays later after the Cougars recovered a Sherando fumble at the Warriors' 1 and turned it into a scoring run by Victor Greene.
But Sherando responded by scoring a pair of touchdowns over the final three minutes of the first half to take a 20-13 lead. Aston's 2-yard run tied the game at 13-all, and a 35-yard punt return by Adam Whitacre set up a short 23-yard scoring drive for the Warriors just before halftime. Sherando senior quarterback Reid Entsminger (4-for-7 passing, 72 yards; 16 carries, 78 yards), capped the drive with a 2-yard touchdown run with 27 seconds left in the second quarter.
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @BradFauberNVD